Insuring that one’s civil rights are recognized is an important part of the American legal profession’s responsibility to its clientele. However, what exactly constitutes a civil right is not necessarily always clear to the layperson. What follows is a brief overview of civil rights in general and what you need to know if you believe yours are being violated in Florida.
Civil rights are generally a set of rights against unfair treatment that are inherent to personhood. Under the American rights paradigm, civil rights are not a creation of the state. However, the state’s task as it relates to civil rights is to recognize and protect them from both itself and from other private actors who may seek to abridge them from being exercised by other people.
Although the term “civil rights movement” generally applies to the struggle by African Americans in the late 20th century forward, civil rights encompass more than just race. Civil rights refer to the equal treatment of people regardless of factors such as race, sex/gender, age, physical or mental disability, religion, or national origin.
Under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, the Federal government has the final say on basic civil rights in America. Although some states may recognize more civil rights than the Federal government, no state (including Florida) may fail to recognize a civil right that the Federal government has recognized.
Specific Civil Rights
In the United States, the government generally recognizes the following rights as civil rights that should be protected:
- Freedom of religion – that persons may hold the religious beliefs of their choice and worship (or not) as they choose
Freedom of expression – also known as freedom of speech, persons are free to speak as they choose about the subjects they wish as long as those statements are not libelous
- Freedom of the press – in general, news organizations are free to report on the news as they wish with whatever opinions they desire as long as they do not engage in libel or slander
- Freedom of assembly – generally people are free to peaceably assemble on public property as they choose
- Freedom to petition – people are free to address their complaints about the state to the state, including by communicating with government officials and filing appropriate suits in court
- Freedom to keep and bear arms – generally, the right of people who have not been previously convicted of a felony are free to own firearms
- Right to equal protection – people have a right to expect equal treatment from the government
- Right to vote – people of adult age have a right to vote for those who will represent them in government
- Right to privacy – people have a right to expect the government not to intrude into their private affairs and records without just cause and close judicial oversight
In addition, under the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution, the government recognizes that the list of rights listed in the Constitution are not exhaustive.
Civil Rights Legislation
Over the years several pieces of legislation have been passed by the United States Congress to protect certain civil rights for certain people. Some of the more prominent ones follow.
- Civil Rights Act of 1964 – this is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that prohibited discrimination in employment, voting, education, and public accommodations based on color, race, religion, sex, or national origin.
- Voting Rights Act of 1965 – passed to combat Jim Crow laws in southern states that restricted access to voting by African Americans
- Fair Housing Act (FHA) – act that prohibited discrimination in housing by race, sex, disability, or familial status.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – passed to combat discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived disability in employment, government, public accommodations, transportation, telecommunication, and commercial facilities.
It is vitally important that the civil rights of those accused with serious crimes are recognized during the judicial process. That’s why you should contact a professional attorney if you find yourself facing prosecution in Florida.